This week, tremendous and unprecedented progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS is being celebrated around the world by the HIV and AIDS community. The world has definitely made crushing AIDS a top priority and we’ve been able to accomplish what many would have said 15 years ago was impossible. But let’s not forget that if the dream of making this the generation that defeats AIDS is to become reality, we must also tackle the leading killer of people with HIV – tuberculosis (TB).
The overlap of TB and HIV is a deadly combination with tragic consequences. TB is the leading killer of people with HIV, accounting for one in four HIV-related deaths. Globally, one-third of the 34 million people living with HIV is infected with TB, and if left unchecked and untreated, TB can kill a person with HIV/AIDS in a matter of weeks. Furthermore, the alarming increase in multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) threatens to reverse progress made against HIV/AIDS despite our efforts to achieve the 2015 Millennium Development Goals related to TB.
Pressing public health challenges like this demand our collective and immediate attention. Today, the Global Fund is on the second and final day of its fourth Replenishment Conference in Washington D.C. Hosted by the United States government, this meeting is a pivotal opportunity for donor countries to increase their pledges over the next three years to bring treatment and hope for HIV, TB and malaria to some of the world’s most underserved and heavily disease-burdened populations.
In his remarks at the Global Fund Partnership Symposium yesterday, Secretary Kerry reminded global leaders that the goal of eliminating TB deaths in our lifetime is achievable if we make the commitment and stay the course – “TB is curable, and make no mistake: With the right effort and the right focus, the right energy, we can eliminate it.”
Bold steps of commitment by the global community will indeed strengthen our fight against TB and will give countries the tools, particularly life-saving commodities, to reduce the spread of TB, cure people suffering with TB, and prevent the further development of MDR-TB. We need new drugs and tools that are safe and effective for people with TB, MDR-TB, and those co-infected with TB and HIV. The U.S. Government has worked together across agencies in the introduction and implementation of the new Xpert diagnostic. The Xpert MTB/RIF assay can detect TB more accurately than current methods, particularly among people co-infected with TB/HIV and can be a reliable proxy for MDR-TB. USAID is also working with partners to improve the currently toxic and lengthy MDR-TB treatment regimen as well as the availability and price of existing second line drugs. Most importantly, USAID and others are working together to prevent the spread of TB within communities and improve access to curable treatment for the most vulnerable and poor populations.
Simply put, we have a historic opportunity to turn the tide on an age-old killer that has plagued mankind for generations. By the global community banding together with resources and endorsements to meet the challenge, the goal of ending TB deaths in our lifetime is within our reach.